Travelling to an earthquake-prone region? I will be, later this year…and here’s what I’ve discovered I need to know before I go, and what I can do to stay safe, should an earthquake occur while we’re there.
The Impossible Princess is currently studying earthquakes at school – which, given the recent tragic earthquakes in Nepal, is a bit of a topical subject. So, to find out more about the hows, whys and wheres of earthquakes, she and I downloaded an app to the iPad called QuakeFeed.
QuakeFeed is a great free app that shows earthquake information from around the world over a 1-day, 7-day or 30-day period, plus you can set it up to provide you with push notifications for M6+ worldwide quakes (or you can buy in-app upgrades to customise the notifications). There’s the option to drill down to detailed information about any one of the earthquakes. The earth’s surface is represented via a variety of maps, plus it shows all the earth’s platelines (the coloured lines on the maps below) and what type they are (convergent, divergent or transform).
Anyway, The Impossible Princess and I were all set for a bit of educational fun, checking out all the earthquakes that had occurred around the world within the past week.
And wasn’t that a revelation? Not an entirely welcome one though. Two of the places I am travelling to this year (Japan and Hawaii) lit up like Christmas trees with quake markers.
Which got me thinking that I need to make sure I know all about travelling to earthquake-prone regions, and prepare accordingly before we go. Of course, no region of the world is totally ‘safe’ from earthquakes, but some areas experience them more frequently (usually at locations where tectonic plates meet), and even though the chances of a significant earthquake happening while we’re there are remote, it certainly pays to be forewarned and forearmed.
So, I’ve done a bit of research and these are some of the tips I’ve gleaned for my own preparation. But please, don’t just take my word for it – do your own research and preparation if you will be travelling to an earthquake-prone region. (See the end of the post for a series of links to some of the detailed information I found.)
Before travelling to an earthquake-prone area:
- Register your travel plans with your government’s foreign affairs or state department. For example, here in Australia it’s done through the Department of Foreign Affairs’ Smartraveller website, and US Citizens have the State Department’s Smart Traveler Enrollment Program. No matter where I’m travelling in the world, I always register our travel plans with Smartraveller. You just never know what is going to happen, and it helps the Government to account for travellers known to be in certain countries, if they have all the relevant information logged with them. If you’re not Australian or American, check with your own government whether they have a similar service.
- Subscribe to travel advice updates for the destination via the websites above (if available). The Australian Smartraveller service sends me email updates each time the travel advice is updated for any of the destinations I have chosen on their website.
- Ensure you have comprehensive travel insurance. But check the fine print to make sure you know exactly what you are covered for. We use Cover-More* travel insurance and have always found them to be great to deal with. (*This is an affiliate link).
- Find out the address and phone details of your country’s nearest Embassy, High Commission or Consulate in the destination, and carry those phone numbers on your person at all times (plus program them into your mobile phone). Also check what the emergency phone number is in that country – it may not be 000 or 911 (for instance, in Japan it’s 119 for fire/ambulance but 110 for police.)
- Research the best local sources for updates on earthquake activity. Here in Australia, it’s Geoscience Australia (an Australian Government agency that reports on significant earthquakes and forms part of the Joint Australian Tsunami Warning Centre). I now follow their twitter feed (@), which provides updates about earthquake activity.
- As soon as you arrive in your hotel room or lodgings in an earthquake-prone region, check out the room to identify the safest place to shelter (see tips below) and locate the nearest stairwell exits. Familiarise yourself with the hotel’s advice regarding earthquakes and evacuation plans.
- Brief any children on what to do in the event of an earthquake.
- Carry your passport or photo identification at all times. If you’re not carrying your passport, secure it and other important travel documents in a waterproof container (I’ve found ziplock bags do the trick) in a safe location.
- Be aware that fire alarm or sprinkler systems may be activated by an earthquake (whether or not there is a fire), and/or the power to your building may be cut.
- Pack a torch in your luggage.
- Determine a family (or travel group) reunification plan in the event that you are separated during an incident. Agree a contact back at home (family member or friend) that can be used as the go-to for coordination of communication.
If an earthquake occurs and you are indoors:
- Stay there. Drop to the floor and take cover under a sturdy piece of furniture (table, desk) and hold onto the furniture until the shaking stops. If there isn’t a suitable piece of furniture, crouch against an inside wall of the room and cover your face and head with your arms. Drop, cover and hold at the first sign of an earthquake, don’t wait to find out how bad it’s going to be, as by that stage it may be too late to safely take cover.
- Try to stay calm.
- Stay away from outside walls and doors, glass windows and anything that could fall (light fittings, shelves, framed paintings and photographs, coat racks etc)
- If you are already in bed, stay there and cover your head with a pillow – unless there is something above the bed that could fall (e.g. heavy light fittings, shelves, framed paintings) in which case, move to the nearest safe place in the room.
- Don’t try to leave the building until the shaking has stopped. Apparently, most earthquake injuries occur to people who try to exit or move around a building.
- In case of power failure or after-shocks, do not use the elevators to exit after the shaking has stopped – take the stairs to ground level.
If you are outdoors during an earthquake:
- Stay outdoors, but move away from hazards such as buildings, vehicles, walls, street lights and signs, trees and power lines.
- Once you’re out in an open, clear space, drop to the ground and stay there until the shaking stops. Try to stay calm.
- If you’re driving, you should pull over to an open area (away from bridges, overpasses and power lines), pull on the handbrake, and stay inside the vehicle with your seat belt on until the shaking stops. Once shaking stops, drive slowly and carefully, avoiding bridges or ramps and being aware of the possibility of damage ahead.
- If you are at a coastal location, familiarize yourself with your accomodation’s tsunami evacuation procedures, listen for local warnings, turn on a radio to learn if there is a tsunami warning, watch for locals evacuating to higher ground.
Does Australia experience earthquakes?
Oh yes, indeed it does…but not with the frequency of places located along the edges of the tectonic plates. The Indo-Australian plate is being pushed north and is colliding with the Eurasian, Philippine and Pacific plates, which causes stress to build up in the interior of Australia – which is released in the form of earthquakes. There are 80 earthquakes (on average) of magnitude 3.0 or more in Australia each year.
The area of Western Australia where I grew up experiences reasonably frequent earth tremors and earthquakes. In primary school, I remember doing earthquake drills, which seemed to consist of a teacher shouting ‘Earthquake!’ and all of us diving under our school desks (drop, cover and hold).
I clearly remember the ground shaking on 2 June 1979 when a significant earthquake occurred just east of the town of Cadoux. It had a magnitude of 6.1 and was the second most damaging earthquake in the history of Western Australia. Although I was about 130 kilometres from the epicenter at the time, the roaring sound and the shuddering ground are not things you forget easily.
And in fact, Australia’s largest recorded earthquake also occurred in Western Australia (at Meeberrie in 1941).
Of the Australian capital cities, Adelaide has experienced more medium-sized earthquakes in the past 50 years than any other.
Some websites for detailed information about earthquakes and earthquake preparedness:
- Geoscience Australia
- Smartraveller – earthquakes
- State Emergency Services – Victoria: What to do in an Earthquake
- US Federal Emergency Management Agency ‘Ready’ website – earthquakes
Have you ever experienced an earthquake? Are you planning to travel to an earthquake-prone region?
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#WeekendWanderlust, is a weekly travel post linkup hosted by Chris & Heather from A Brit and a Southerner, Jessi & Tara from Outbound Adventurer, Ashley from A Southern Gypsy, Justin and Lauren from Justin Plus Lauren, and Jolanta from Casual Traveler.